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Health experts and community leaders discuss COVID-19 vaccine equity

Posted at 11:17 PM, Dec 17, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. — While many members of the general public won't be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for months, leaders in Western New York are working right now to build trust and educate people so that they will take the vaccine when their turn comes.

If our community is misinformed, they’re gonna refuse,” said Dr. Raul Vazquez.

Health experts from Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, the African American Health Equity Task Force, local physicians, faith leaders, and State Senator Tim Kennedy held a panel to discuss the best ways to inform Black and Latino communities about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Rev. George Nicholas chairs the African American Health Equity Task Force and said it's important to build trust.

Michael Eric Dyson would say, he talks about how African American people don’t mistrust science, they mistrust scientists," said Nicholas. "Because of the history, because of the history of how institutional and systemic and structural racism has played this role in the world of medicine.”

He said the COVID-19 vaccine had Black representation in the development and trial stages.

The panel said many are turning to religious leaders for information and advice on whether they should take the vaccine. Rev. Diann Holt, the Founder of Durham's Maternal Stress Free Zone, said it's important to provide clergy with information to pass on to their congregations.

“If we can get them to have the correct messaging it’s a job done, but we can’t send them some place that they’re not going to trust,” said Holt.

After education comes access to the vaccine. Dr. Raul Vazquez, Founder and CEO, Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network (GBUAHN), said community doctors need to play a key role.

“You have primary care infrastructures that are in place that do a lot of public health, that I feel often lead the way," Vazquez said. "So while you have the health department, while we have the university, that’s all great,. These guys aren’t out here, they don’t know what we do.

Vazquez said it's also important for doctors to make a plan for patients to come back a few weeks later for the second dose.

There was an opportunity for the public to ask panelists questions.

One question the public asked was if the vaccine was rushed. Dr. Timothy Murphy, Senior Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Research at Jacobs, said the vaccine is based on older vaccines like SARS and MERS. He added that the trials had the same number of participants as any other vaccine trial would.

“The reason it was able to be done so quickly is there was this enormous national and international collaboration to do these trials," Murphy said. "The Pfizer trial, the one that now has emergency use authorization, had 149 sites."

Another question asked was which vaccine is the safest for seniors. The panel said both vaccines proved effective in seniors during trial phases.

The doctors stressed that mild side effects are a good thing because it means the body is building immunity.